Plecos is the name commonly used to refer to a wide variety of catfish (Loricariids), which have armor-like plates and suckermouths. These freshwater catfish are known to be algae eaters, bottom feeders, and scavengers that will eat just about anything, making them a helpful addition to an aquarium. Contrary to popular belief, Plecos primarily feed on detritus (decomposing organic matter), not algae.
Originating in Central and South America, there are countless kinds of Plecos catfish. The most popular are the Suckermouth Catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus) and Bristlenose Catfish (Ancistrus dolichopterus). With proper care, Plecos can live up to 20 years, and sometimes longer!
Plecos are sold quite small in pet stores, so most people don’t realize that they will grow to reach 1 to 2 feet in length. Anyone considering purchasing a Pleco should be ready to provide the care and space that this fish will need as it grows. As your Pleco grows larger, be prepared to house it in a 50-100 gallon aquarium. An older, larger Pleco may need a tank size closer to 150-200 gallons.
Plecos can be housed with a wide variety of fish, but they are very territorial toward their own species, so it’s best to be safe and only keep one per tank. It’s important to avoid overcrowding your Pleco–fish should have enough room in the tank to have their own territories. This will help avoid negative interactions. Avoid housing your Pleco with flat-bodied fish as it can cause damage with its mouth.
A glass tank (not acrylic) is optimal as Plecos can scratch an acrylic tank with their mouths. The tank should be established with dependable water parameters and proper filtration–Plecos are used to living in moving water and won’t thrive in water that lacks circulation and flow.
Because Plecos are agile jumpers, be sure to purchase a securely-fitted lid for your tank.
A habitat is an important aspect of pet care for any animal, and it’s no different for Plecos. A barren tank will stress your fish and make it shy and bored. Plecos need hiding spots throughout the tank where they can stay during the day because they’re nocturnal. Hiding spots can be created using all sorts of aquarium decorations like caves, tunnels, dark pipes, wood, and artificial plants.
Substrate, like pebbles or gravel, is a must for Plecos since they spend much of their time combing over sediment and debris looking for food. Wood should be included in your habitat for your Pleco to chew on. Many freshwater hobbyists say that wood helps balance the pH in the tank, which is important for Plecos.
Live plants and Plecos usually don’t go well together as Plecos are known to uproot or eat them, but if you want to try live plants, choose sturdy, fast-growing species and bury the roots deeply and securely in your substrate. It will help to distract your Pleco if you give it plenty of food and vegetables. Treats like zucchini, cucumber, and lettuce (not iceberg), twice a week, will help keep its appetite for plants at bay.
Stable quality of water, temperature, and pH levels are critical to the health of your fish. You will need to purchase a freshwater testing kit and make sure your tank has healthy parameters before adding any fish to it.
- Every Day
- Check the water temperature and filter
- Turn the lights on in the morning and off every night
- Feed your Pleco every day or every other day
- Check the water quality and pH with a freshwater testing kit
- Give your Pleco vegetables 1-2 times a week
- Depending on the size of your tank, you should change 15-20% of the water 1-2 times per month (the smaller the tank or less filtration, the more often you’ll need to do water changes). Here’s some more in-depth information about freshwater tank care and water changes.
- Water temperature: 72-82 degrees F
- pH-value: 6.5 and 7.5
- Plecos prefer semi-soft water (not too soft as that can cause a pH crash)
- Plecos prefer highly oxygenated water with strong flow and filtration
Because Plecos are nocturnal, the best time to feed them is just before you turn the light off at night. This is the best way to avoid other fish eating the Pleco’s food.
While Plecos do eat detritus and algae, it will still need its diet supplemented. Feed your Pleco every day or every other day with Pleco-specific food. One to two times per week, feed your Pleco pieces of cucumber, zucchini, or lettuce (not iceberg).
Heating & Lighting
It’s important for your Pleco’s health that you replicate the natural rising and setting of the sun. Turn your aquarium lights on every morning and off every night, or buy a lighting timer that manages it for you.
While Plecos aren’t likely to come out during the day, you can increase the chance of seeing them during the day by dimming the aquarium lights in the morning or evening, or by adding floating plants that will block some of the light.
The temperature in the aquarium should be kept between 72-82 degrees F at all times.
- 50-100 gallon glass aquarium
- Secure screen lid
- Filtration system
- Water quality (and pH) testing kit
- Tank heater
- Tank thermometer
- Lighting timer (optional)
- Hides (caves, tunnels, tubes, etc.)
- Artificial and/or real plants
- Pleco food
- Circulation fan (depends on filtration flow and size of tank)
Signs of a Healthy Pleco
- Vigorous appetite
- Clear eyes
- Remains on or near the tank bottom or the side of the aquarium and decor
- cloudy eyes
- fraying fins
- color loss
- breathing problems
- spots on the body
- feeding during the day – more than occasionally
Common health problems include Cloudy Eye and Ich. Improving the water quality is often an adequate solution for Cloudy Eye. For Ich, you will need to quarantine your Pleco right away and use a medicated solution for around two-three weeks.
This outline is meant to be simple guide to Pleco care. For more information or advice on health problems, please consult a fish expert, your veterinarian, or more in-depth online resources.